Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What You Should Know About The Hunger Games

Taking a break from my normal nerdy history stuff because, well, it's a big week this week: The Hunger Games is coming out. I've been a fan since the first book came out a few years ago, and this is pretty much the film event of the year.

There's a decent chance, however, that you may have missed the book up to this point. Perhaps you heard that it's the "next Twilight" (don't worry, it's not), perhaps you dismissed it because it's essentially a book for teenagers (it is, but if you haven't heard, YA books are "in" right now, and are regularly publishing some of the best genre fiction currently), perhaps you're just being dragged this weekend by your significant other. Regardless, there's no reason why you shouldn't go into the movie with an idea of what's going on, so here's a quick overview so that the odds will ever be in your favor.

The Basics

So, what is The Hunger Games, anyway: Long and short, the movie is based off of the first book in a trilogy of young adult books by Suzanne Collins. Collins had previously written The Underland Chronicles, as well as written for television shows including Clifford's Puppy Days and the Nickelodeon classic Clarissa Explains It All. The first book in the trilogy is, of course, The Hunger Games, followed by Catching Fire and Mockingjay.

What's it about? Why should I care: The big "thing" in young adult literature is dystopian fiction, in part due to this series. The Hunger Games takes place sometime after a major apocalyptic event in North America. The nation is now called Panem, and is split up into twelve districts and the capitol. Following a failed uprising in the 13th district, the capitol now forces two children (one male and one female) from each district to participate in what is called the Hunger Games, a death-by-combat competition in an arena near the capitol.

The book is a very well-received science fiction novel with a lot of similarities to other types of stories, most notably Battle Royale. While Collins insists her story was based more off of Greek myths, the reality is that the plot touches on a number of different ideas and forms a really exciting story that I hope carries over onto the big screen.

So who is in the movie, anyhow?

The casting for this was a huge deal overall. I don't know how happy I am with the choices overall - I think a lot of the cast, at least from what I've seen of them, are a little more polished than their grittier, poorer counterparts in Panem. With that said, I (obviously) haven't seen the movie yet, so I could be completely wrong. The important players, however, are as follows:

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen

Why You Know Her: She was nominated for an Academy Award for her work in Winter's Bone two years ago, and you likely saw her as Mystique in X-Men: First Class.

Who She Plays: Katniss Everdeen, the heroine of our story. A resident of District 12, she's known for her survival instincts and is friendly with Peeta. Katniss volunteers to take part in the Hunger Games in place of her sister. If you don't like her, too bad, since we're stuck with her for the long run.

Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark

Why You Know Him: He's played a number of children over the years, some memorable (The Kids Are All Right), some less so (RV, Journey to the Center of the Earth). He's also going to be in the sequel to Journey and is set to be part of the Red Dawn remake.

Who He Plays: Peeta Mellark, Katniss's friend from District 12. The son of a baker, his name is picked as the male tribute for the Hunger Games.

Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne

Why You Know Him: You're either Australian, you're confusing him for his brother Chris (who plays Thor in the Marvel movies), or you're a teenage girl who saw that Miley Cyrus movie a few years ago.

Who He Plays: Katniss's best friend from District 12. Taught her how to hunt, and is the third angle in the always-cinematically-necessary Katniss-Peeta-Gale love triangle.

Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy

Why You Know Him: Woody Harrelson, when not off getting high or angering Reddit users, is best known for being on Cheers and his roles in films like Natural Born Killers, White Men Can't Jump, Kingpin, and Academy Award-nominating nods in The People vs. Larry Flynt and The Messenger.

Who He Plays: Haymitch Abernathy, the drunken elder of District 12 who won the Hunger Games years earlier. His family suffered greatly because of it, but he's got to help Katniss and Peeta anyway.

Donald Sutherland as President Snow

Why You Know Him: Because he's Donald Sutherland. JFK, The Dirty Dozen, Ordinary People, etc. For more genre-based stuff, he was Merrick, the Watcher, in the film version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and was in the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers. He's also Keifer Sutherland's father.

Who He Plays: President Snow, the president of Panem. He's a dictator, a murderer, and all-around jerkface. Good times had by all.

There are a lot of other well-known people involved: Lenny Kravitz plays Cinna, Katniss's stylist. Elizabeth Banks plays Effie, the escort for the tributes from District 12. Also, there are important characters such as Prim, Katniss's sister, and Rue, a tribute from District 11.

So what should I expect?

In no particular order:

Kids killing kids: It's a book with a lot of brutal action in it, and there was a lot of concern that the violence involving children may be too much to get the PG-13 rating it would obviously need. It will be interesting to see where the violence level sits on this.

Contractually-obligated love triangles: This is in the book, so it's not a "well, we need a Team Peeta and a Team Gale for marketing purposes." Without giving too much away (although it's expected that three lead characters will have a triangle of some sort), the necessity of this triangle is made clear and is really a stroke of good storytelling.

A $100m+ opening weekend: Not only is this the biggest thing for teens since the most recent Twilight film, the books have transcended teens and have a number of adult fans. Fully expect your showing to have a lot of annoying teenagers at it unless you plan on going at 11:30 on a Saturday night like my wife and I.

I do recommend reading the books. If you have an Amazon Prime account, you can actually borrow all three books for free on your Kindle-reading device. They don't cost too much as eBooks, either, for that matter. With that said, if you were on the fence about the movie or getting good significant other credit now for dragging your loved one to The Avengers this summer, you'll likely be surprised at how much you enjoy this.


  1. My main gripe about the series is the blatant battle royale plagiarism, main gripe about what I've seen of the movie is the fact the kids aren't gaunt and half-feral. They shouldn't be SoCal mallrat kids, they should be rough. But hey - I'll still see it and more than likely enjoy it.

  2. I was on Team Hailee Steinfeld for Katniss, but I get why they wanted to go older and perhaps more accomplished. But the guy for Peeta may as well be a teen model, and that just doesn't work for me at all. With that said, we'll see how he does.